JOHNSON SPACE CENTER — The Olympic torch relay for the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, took an out-of-this-world detour Saturday.
The torch, which was launched to the International Space Station on Thursday, was taken on its first spacewalk by Russian cosmonauts Oleg Kotov and Sergei Ryazanskiy early Saturday morning.
The torch remained unlit to preserve oxygen on the space station and prevent any fire threat to the crew.
Video broadcast on NASA TV showed Kotov and Ryazanskiy carrying the torch through a hatch and into space. Tied to a line attached to the station, the torch floated weightlessly as the orbiting laboratory passed over Earth.
Kotov and Ryazanskiy performed maintenance work to the station’s exterior during the five-hour-plus spacewalk.
The astronauts and cosmonauts currently on board the station are from the U.S., Italy, Japan and Russia. When the torch arrived at the orbiting laboratory on Thursday, the nine crew members on the station each got to hold the Olympic symbol in zero gravity.
The Russian cosmonauts on the station got to take the torch on its historic spacewalk, but the spirit of international cooperation embodied by the Olympics is on fully display at the International Space Station, Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata said in a crew news conference Friday.
“Space exploration is very similar,” he said.
U.S. astronaut Karen Nyberg, the European Space Agency’s Luca Parmitano and cosmonaut Yurchikhin will bring the Olympic torch back to earth tonight when the crew members are set to depart the station on a Soyuz space capsule.
The torch still has a long way to go before it is delivered to Sochi for the Winter Olympics Opening Ceremony on Feb. 7. It is on the longest relay in the history of the Games, crossing all across Russia along with the brief journey into space.
In 1996, the torch took a ride on the Atlantis space shuttle for the Atlanta Summer Olympics. However, Saturday’s spacewalk marked the first time the torch left the environs of a spacecraft.